Ask the Pros: What skill/trait are you most looking for in an intern or assistant?

Ask the Pros: What skill/trait are you most looking for in an intern or assistant?
To help prepare you for the real world, our Ask the Pros series is here to help answer some of your most common questions about interviewing, job-hunting and working in the world of publication and media art and photo departments.

Got a question you want answered? Send it to us at and we'll put it to our experts! A varying panel of professionals will give you their take, and then it's up to you to put their advice to work.

And if you're a working professional yourself, we'd love to hear your opinion too ... don't hesitate to add it in our comments or email us to be on one of our panels.

Today's panel gives you some awesome insight into what they want in an intern/assistant...

What skill/trait(s) are you most looking for in a potential intern/entry-level assistant?

PRO: Jenn McManus - Deputy Art Director, Brides
I love an intern who is willing to do anything -- and by anything, I don't mean get coffee. I want you to be okay with trimming pages, making clipping paths, organizing the art department's magazine files -- all things that designers have to do and don't want to. And if you do it for us and do it well, we'll love you eternally; but more importantly, we'll remember you when an entry-level position opens up. 
    For an assistant, when you start your career, it's not necessarily about how you want to design, but how your boss wants you to design. The magazine is his or her vision. So, it's nice to see in your book that not only do you grasp the basics of good design, but that you're adaptable.

PRO: Jason Lancaster - Senior Director of Design, ESPN the Magazine
Attention to detail and typography skills

PRO: Iris Johnson - Art Director, 20/20 Magazine
For an entry-level assistant, I'm looking for someone who is eager to learn and will approach all the work I give him/her -- including the non-design tasks of the job -- with enthusiasm. I look for someone who is creative and organized. 

PRO: Soni Khatri - Designer, Sunset Magazine
We're looking for someone who is interested in magazine design specifically. Your portfolio may be amazing, but there are other factors we look for. You must be organized, willing to take direction and be eager to learn. I have to say, even if your design skills are just fine, the fact that you're eager and willing to learn makes all the difference. We look for someone who wants this to become their career in the long run. Going above and beyond is key to getting a good reference later on. 

PRO: Andrea Dunham - Design Director, PEOPLE magazine
Love this question. The entry-level traits that impress me most -- and this may sound about as self-serving as I intend it to -- are Humility and Tirelessness, and Speed on top of Talent. I couldn't care less if you're at the top of your class, having self-published glossy art magazines since you were five. If you're open-minded, willing to work and rework your pages quickly, and totally committed to reading the needs of your boss and those of the magazine you're working for, you'll be golden. 
    If you're crafty and talented enough to make it thru the door, you should be wise enough to realize that all that talent of yours is worth squat if you can't employ it swiftly, and from very angle, on a day-to-day basis. You'll learn it the hard way anyway once you're on the job: never be wedded to your ideas. If you're really talented, you have tons of ideas. So prove it by not being precious and staying flexible. 
     As for skills, an observant reviewer of your portfolio will have reasonable expectations of your skills based on where you are in the game. For me, though, I like to take it a push further and ask more questions of you if your work is really striking: I ask directly how those pages were produced and I pray for honesty. I ask if you took the photos, if you photoshopped them yourself, if you did the bells and whistles on the type yourself. If you made a bound book, I like to ask how you learned how to do it, what parts of it you did yourself, for example. I realize that many of the skills it took you to do your college work aren't required at a magazine job, but generally the more direct experience you have in the creation of your ideas, the more interested I am in you, and the more potential you'll have for our art department.

PRO: R. Scott Wells - Associate Art Director, Popular Mechanics
Personally I'm most looking for someone that shows a clear interest in editorial design/logic/thinking. I'm looking for work with your college/university publications, editorial mockups, a magazine you invented yourself just for fun, etc. I want someone who, while their experience may be limited, has clearly caught the magazine bug. 

PRO: Sarah Garcea - Deputy Art Director, Inc. Magazine
We're looking for people who are eager, and passionate about design and learning. Having good computer skills and extra skills like in Illustrator, Photoshop, and digital also go a long way! 

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